AS Helmut Kohl looks ahead to his next four years as German chancellor, his main challenge will be to follow up on domestic unification while simultaneously pursuing European unification. Given the voter confirmation of Kohl's center-right coalition in national elections on Sunday, he should be able to pursue these twin aims with relatively strong support in the Bundestag, or parliament. Together, his coalition garnered nearly 55 percent of the vote. (Election returns, Page 2.)
``Kohl regards completion of the next stage of European integration as the last great challenge which he is setting himself to fulfill,'' says a diplomat in Bonn who asked not to be named. ``He wants to go down in the history books as Germany's greatest chancellor ... but he also wants to be as well regarded on the European stage as he is on the home stage.''
In the last few weeks, Kohl has emphasized European union, especially in reference to the upcoming European Community conferences on monetary and political union, which begin Dec. 15 in Rome.
``More than ever, we're ready to transfer sovereign rights to the European Community,'' Kohl said in a speech before the Bundestag Nov. 22. ``We're working further on the goal that unites us with our European friends - namely, the building of the United States of Europe.''
There's a side benefit in emphasizing European unity for the Germans. As Fritz Enghusen, a voter in Bonn put it, ``It can level the fear which people have of German nationalism.''
Bonn is formulating what it actually means by political European union, and what it has thought out so far doesn't match the ideas of fellow EC members.
According to Kohl's vision, political union means giving increased power to the European Parliament, which the French and British are resisting.
By the next European Parliament election in 1994, Kohl wants the Parliament to have a say in the appointment of European Commission members, and above all, a stronger say in European legislation.
Kohl is also keen on making European security part of political union. He reportedly wants to strengthen the Western European Union which consists of nine of the 16 members of NATO.
On the monetary union front, Kohl broke ranks with the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, in October by favoring Jan. 1, 1994, as the date to begin the second phase of monetary union in Europe, which would set up a European central bank. The Germans want the Eurofed, as it's called, to be politically independent, but Paris doesn't agree.
It also wants to pursue the idea of a single currency, possibly at a ``two-speed'' rate at which a core of countries with stable economies switch to one currency before the rest of the EC members do, according to a foreign office official. Britain, which would probably not be able to qualify for such a core group, opposes this idea. (Britain's new approach to monetary union, Page 5.)
Perhaps more than any other capital in western Europe, Bonn wants to bring Eastern Europe into the western nest. It expects to sign partnership treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia next year. It just recently signed a treaty with the Soviet Union that extends $8.7 billion of aid and credit to Moscow.
Last week, Bonn endorsed a private drive for unprecedented food aid to the Soviets in the form of care packages. It also agreed to donate Berlin's emergency food stock, and offered food stocks from the Bundeswehr and former East German Army.
The Germans are particularly interested in maintaining good relations with Moscow and in doing all they can to preserve stability there, not a small reason being the presence of 380,000 Soviet troops in eastern Germany.
Domestically, the top priority is to recreate a mini German economic miracle in the eastern part of the country.
In post-election comments, Kohl emphasized once again his unwillingness to increase taxes to pay for unification, remarking that record Christmas sales proved his theory that German economic growth could take on much of the financial burden.
Finance Minister Theo Waigel says Bonn can finance unification through borrowing (no more than $47 million next year) and budget cuts (about $23 billion in 1991).
But investment in eastern Germany is slow.Though Kohl puts an optimistic face on things, ``He's upset,'' says the diplomat. ``He knows that even their estimates [of unification's cost] are well above what they can afford without four supplementary budgets next year.''